Quick Hoops

NOTE: This post was actually written in 2017 and has been living on my laptop ever since. Tomorrow, I’m going to publish my follow up post on DOUBLE layered quick hoops which I am using THIS winter to grow lettuce & beets, and overwinter my thyme, yarrow, lavender, and chamomile…

So, from last season…

I had heard of quick hoops or hoops houses from a number of sources, but it was only after reading about Anna Hess’s quick hoops in her book WeekendHomesteader (reviewed here) that I actually tried them for myself.

As of this writing, I was only in my first season with quick hoops. However, they quickly demonstrated their value to me by saving my spring crops from a snowstorm and feral cats! I’m a relatively new gardener to a high altitude 5a-6a growing zone, and after spending most of my life in the Deep South (and a brief stint in the tropics) I am still adapting to this northern, high altitude climate. 

I believe in giving credit where it’s due, so I won’t copy Hess’s instructions here. Go buy her book or borrow it from your library if you want her guidance. That said, the design isn’t terribly complicated and there are many good ways to go about it. I did do things a bit differently myself, and I’m happy to share what I did & learned in the process.

I currently have 7 garden beds; 6 are roughly 3.5’ x 12’ and the last one is 4.5’ x 8’. I wanted to test the system out before fully investing in hoops for everything, so started off with enough material for one bed. I bought:

- 8 pieces of 3/8 in steel rebar 2 ft long
- 4 pieces of 1/2 PVC pipe 10 ft long
- “clear” plastic sheeting (I had to buy 100’ of this as it was the shortest length; I was okay with that as I expected to use it all up eventually in the garden)

I cut the PVC pipes down to 8’ using a 2” lopper yard tool, because the 10’ length seemed tall enough that the tunnel would really catch the wind.

After that, I hammered the rebar into the ground at even intervals along the long outside edges of the bed, burying them at least ¾ their length. I’ve found that the hoops do best when these support sections are no greater than 3 feet apart. Make sure you’ve buried the rebar well into some hard-packed ground, as the outward force of holding a bent PVC pipe CAN MAKE THEM FLY OUT OF THE GROUND.

Ask me how I know…

I then slipped the PVC piping over the rebar. This is a little easier said than done, as PVC piping does not bend very nicely. For these 8 foot sections of pipe, it was easiest to slip one end onto the rebar, then walk over to the other side of the bed before grabbing the free end of PVC and wrangling it onto the second piece of rebar.

The next step really needs to be done on a day with no wind. I laid out the plastic sheeting next to the garden bed I was covering, and cut it to the proper length – giving myself about 4 extra feet on either end to close the tunnel with. I then started to cover the garden bed by putting the sheeting where I wanted it at one end, then weighed it down with a couple cinder blocks before pulling it over each hoop down the bed to the other end. I used another cinder block for the other end of the tunnel.

Finally, I used some big rocks and bricks to weigh down the side sheeting and keep it tight. The tighter it is, the less susceptible it will be to wind.

Pretty easy right?

I set up my quick hoop well before I needed it to test it out properly. I wanted to make sure that it could handle our crazy, windy weather, and I wanted to see how quickly it raised the soil temperature inside the hoop over a certain amount of time. I also wanted to see how it did with plastic sheeting instead of floating row cover fabric – which is what most people use in this situation.

Here’s what I learned:

- Keep the plastic sheeting as tight as possible to provide stability in the wind. You can also reduce the length of the PVC piping to as short at 5’ (assuming a 3.5’ bed width) to reduce the hoop’s profile in windy areas – just be aware that you won’t be able to grow tall or bushy plants near the edges of your bed.

- In cold, cloudy areas it will take several weeks for the quick hoop to warm up the soil. To accelerate this process, make sure you have raked away any mulch so that the bare soil is exposed inside the hoop.

- Once you have your crops planted under the quick hoops, keep a close watch on the weather and be prepared to vent the bed on warmer sunny days (a sunny 60 degree day outside can raise the temps inside your quick hoops to a very humid 80+ degrees. If you have cold weather crops in there, they will get wilted, sad, and prone to disease from the heat and excessive moisture. To vent the bed, just peel back the plastic sheeting until the day cools off again.

- If you are in the suburbs or city and have pesky feral cats in the area, quick hoops are great for preventing them from pooping in your garden. Once things warm up, you can replace the plastic with bird netting to continue keeping the cats (and birds and bunnies) out. This won’t prevent a raccoon or an overly rambunctious dog, but if you are having a cat problem then you probably aren’t having a raccoon or dog problem.

- The plastic is VERY effective at keeping in moisture, which is good because it’s a pain in the rear to water in there. It will make a very nice haven for gnats and slugs though. Be prepared with beer traps for your slugs and vinegar traps for your gnats once things start warming up.

Have any of you tried quick hoops in your gardens? Tell me about your experience! And be sure to check out tomorrow's update on double walled quick hoops from this season.